Brian Wilkerson

Books

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Smashwords book reviews by Brian Wilkerson

  • Talented (Talented Saga #1) on June 24, 2012

    "Talented" has a great opening hook. Its not easy to write a panicked introduction with first person but Miss. Davis pulls it off. Then she seamlessly transitions into a calmer atmosphere and more day-to-day routine for the protagonist, Natalia. For the first seven chapters I had to tell myself, "put it down, you've been reading too long." Those chapters have amusing character development, training scenes to avert "Instant Expert" and interesting world building. All of them them come into play during Natalia's missions. Those are my favorite parts. Miss. Davis puts a lot of thought into the logistics (i.e the most important and yet often overlooked part of such missions) of them and can write a suspenseful infiltration. A special note about the world building. It goes into much detail early on and I loved that. I love it when authors really think about how their world works. Miss. Davis talks about things that have nothing to do with the plot but provide a 'flavor' that makes the world seem more concrete. 'worlds exist in details' and I this one I could believe exists. Best of all, the exposition has its own chapters so there's no awkward 'as you know' between Natalia and others. The biggest problem with "Talented is that the bulk of the story is bogged down in Natalia's relationship issues. The description states that her driving goal in life is avenging her parents but this rarely comes up. Its not even mentioned until her first mission in chapter 14. Occasionally she states her resolve in the third act but at the start of the next she's back internally angsting about her boy issues. I seriously thought she was schizophrenic. One time she even states how ridiculous she's being and how ashamed of herself she is for letting her relationship issues stand in the way of her goal, then goes right back to being ridiculous. This wouldn't be as big a problem if they weren't so predictable. I saw every 'twist' in her relationship coming; a bad soap opera. Characters are derailed to make it happen. Donavon is made into a jerkass, Eric losses his humor for jealous not-yet-boyfriend aggression, Henri is pushed to the sidelines, and Penny's role is reduced to pushing Natalia towards Erik. In my opinion it all falls flat. The second biggest problem is related to the first. The missions are, for the most part, glazed over in favor of the relationship trouble. She is a child soldier carrying out assassinations and CIA like intelligence gathering they are allocated far less space than the relationship drama. 'went off without a hitch' is how one is described. Even the more in-depth ones lack important details: such as the nature of the information they seek or why this one guy is marked for assassination. Even worse, Miss. Davis subordinates the missions to the relationship drama by using them to set up more drama. One could replace 'civil war' with 'highly competitive school rivarly' and the context for the relationship drama would not change. At this point I wanted to stop reading. A third problem is editing. Words are frequently missing. Miss. Davis repeats a piece of world building for no apparent reason. The pacing is wonky because the stated conflict, 'avenging her parents', is usually missing. I was glad when this book was over. I did not like it. I thought I was going to love it which made me dislike it even more because it disappointed me. More than that it deceived me. The 'duplicity' and 'betrayal' and 'inner turmoil' in the description have nothing at all to do with her parent's murder or the 'bad guy' Ian Crane. Nor does it make he doubt her powers. I will not read the sequel.
  • Talented (Talented Saga #1) on June 24, 2012

    "Talented" has a great opening hook. Its not easy to write a panicked introduction with first person but Miss. Davis pulls it off. Then she seamlessly transitions into a calmer atmosphere and more day-to-day routine for the protagonist, Natalia. For the first seven chapters I had to tell myself, "put it down, you've been reading too long." Those chapters have amusing character development, training scenes to avert "Instant Expert" and interesting world building. All of them them come into play during Natalia's missions. Those are my favorite parts. Miss. Davis puts a lot of thought into the logistics (i.e the most important and yet often overlooked part of such missions) of them and can write a suspenseful infiltration. A special note about the world building. It goes into much detail early on and I loved that. I love it when authors really think about how their world works. Miss. Davis talks about things that have nothing to do with the plot but provide a 'flavor' that makes the world seem more concrete. 'worlds exist in details' and I this one I could believe exists. Best of all, the exposition has its own chapters so there's no awkward 'as you know' between Natalia and others. The biggest problem with "Talented is that the bulk of the story is bogged down in Natalia's relationship issues. The description states that her driving goal in life is avenging her parents but this rarely comes up. Its not even mentioned until her first mission in chapter 14. Occasionally she states her resolve in the third act but at the start of the next she's back internally angsting about her boy issues. I seriously thought she was schizophrenic. One time she even states how ridiculous she's being and how ashamed of herself she is for letting her relationship issues stand in the way of her goal, then goes right back to being ridiculous. This wouldn't be as big a problem if they weren't so predictable. I saw every 'twist' in her relationship coming; a bad soap opera. Characters are derailed to make it happen. Donavon is made into a jerkass, Eric losses his humor for jealous not-yet-boyfriend aggression, Henri is pushed to the sidelines, and Penny's role is reduced to pushing Natalia towards Erik. In my opinion it all falls flat. The second biggest problem is related to the first. The missions are, for the most part, glazed over in favor of the relationship trouble. She is a child soldier carrying out assassinations and CIA like intelligence gathering they are allocated far less space than the relationship drama. 'went off without a hitch' is how one is described. Even the more in-depth ones lack important details: such as the nature of the information they seek or why this one guy is marked for assassination. Even worse, Miss. Davis subordinates the missions to the relationship drama by using them to set up more drama. One could replace 'civil war' with 'highly competitive school rivarly' and the context for the relationship drama would not change. At this point I wanted to stop reading. A third problem is editing. Words are frequently missing. Miss. Davis repeats a piece of world building for no apparent reason. The pacing is wonky because the stated conflict, 'avenging her parents', is usually missing. I was glad when this book was over. I did not like it. I thought I was going to love it which made me dislike it even more because it disappointed me. More than that it deceived me. The 'duplicity' and 'betrayal' and 'inner turmoil' in the description have nothing at all to do with her parent's murder or the 'bad guy' Ian Crane. Nor does it make he doubt her powers. I will not read the sequel.
  • Light & Dark: The Awakening of the Mageknight on Aug. 11, 2012

    A Trickster Eric Novels review Daniel Fife asked me to review his first book "Light Dark The Awakening of MageKnight". The protagonist, Danny is a normal student when he stumbles into a battle between a white dragon and a black shadow creature. The next day he finds out the dragon was the pretty new transfer student he has a crush on. She draws him into her world, where she is a squire for the Order of the Light and fights the shadow monsters who seek to destroy the world. It is not the most original of plots. Anyone with a drop of genre savvy could predict every plot twist in the story. Except for one which, appropriately, is the most important one of all. Even without that it is still a enjoyable read. 1.This isn't some half-assed cliche storm. Mr.Fife put thought into the life of the knight' community to create the full picture. The knight's tailor, for instance, has zilch to do with the plot but he is necessary for the setting. Someone's got to make the squire robes, after all, and someone needs to tailor them to fit the flabby rookies as they develop into lean knights. There's also a scene about elfin tea practices which serves as character development in addition to world building. Its one of my favorite scenes. 2. Another one of my favorite scenes is the squire duel. Mr. Fife knows how to write an action scene. He also knows how to give his hero a superpower without it turning in a gamebreaker or introducing a kryptonite factor to negate it entirely. All it does is level the playing field against stronger and more experienced opponents. 3. The transition from event to event is smooth and believable. Thus the pacing is enjoyable, except for one part which I will get to later. Mr.Fife does not rely on idiot balls to move the plot along. Instead it is powered by the agendas of many different people contrasting and meshing. 4. The character development is great, or more appropriately, it becomes great after the characters arrive at the knight school. Once he focuses on the main characters (instead of introducing new ones every chapter) they all develop distinct and likable personalities. However, this book has its flaws. There are three of them and they're all in the first arc. 1. Pacing. Dragons don't show up until the fourth chapter (p. 18) and that is a brief moment. Answers and genuine world building don't come for another 7 pages. In-universe the pacing is also off. The story begins on the first day of school, then skips weeks to the first shadow, then a sixth month skip where apparently both the good and bad guys sit on their butts and do nothing, and finally a skip to the end of school. In 45 pages, only two shadows show up and Danny is just beginning to find out about them. If this were a TV show, all of that would be dealt with in the first episode, second tops. I have a suspicion that Mr.Fife wanted to make Danny as identifiable as possible and this is the reason for the odd pacing. 'first day of the school year', 'bullies' 'crushes', etc. These had to happen in school for the reader to slot themselves into Danny's place. Once this is established, Mr.Fife has to make month long jumps where nothing happens to put his characters into a 'summer knight training school' where the plot actually begins. 2. Characters. There are too many characters introduced early on that are not important. Its a waste of space and a drag on the storyline. Their characterization is also a problem. No one has a solid character in the first arc; not Danny, not Sabrina, no one. I referred to them as 'average guy' and 'pretty new girl' until they arrived at the knight academy. Danny's friends are even worse; they're names with a biography attached. All of them are better characterized by the end but that doesn't justify their poor characterization at the start. 3. Construction. Normally I praise world building but only if it serves to build the full picture. What Mr.Fife did in the first arc violates the Law of Conservation of Detail. He introduces half a dozen characters in the first arc who will never be seen or heard from again for the first of it; builds a school environment; starts the story on the first day of school when the meat of the story takes place when its over. Its a horrible idea to build this setting and then throw it away. Based on the first arc (the first 45 or so pages) I'd give this book an F. Based on the remaining 150 or so pages, I'd give this book an A. I can't reconcile the 'normal school' writing with the 'knight school writing'. Its like they were written by different people. Anyway, I enjoyed reading it and if there is a second book in the series I would be interested in reading it. For more information see its work page on TVTropes.
  • Adventure Hunters: Similitude on Feb. 14, 2013

    A Trickster Eric Novels review "Adventure Hunters" is a low fantasy with a trio of heroes doing their own thing but get caught up in a big plot. It's not original by any means so I like it all the more. After reading the first arc I thought of it as mashed potatoes; warm and filling and tasty. The plot follows a king finding an Artifact of Doom and is driven to acquire the means to activate it and gain the power to defeat his opponent in a war. Like I said, not original but it's well written and there are a few unusual points. The first of which is that the king in question is not a megalomaniac with global conquest in mind; instead he's good king in a desperate situation. His methods and actions brand him as nothing more than a mild anti-villain. Second, the reason for his actions is a border dispute over a trading post that escalated into a full blown war. Something like this has happened before in real life and compared to larger-than-life threats in fantasy (and other genres) it is low key. I like this because I can take the plot more seriously when the villain is a genuine character instead of a personified threat. The small scope also keeps the story focused and streamlined. Finally, the conflict is resolved by the end. There are no loose ends but plenty of room for follow up adventures. It left me satisfied and yet also wanting a sequel; like eating a delicious something makes you want to eat more of that something. The main cast is a classic fighter/mage/thief trio. They're introduced searching for treasure in an old ruin and it read like something out of a D&D novel. It was fun, exciting, and a great method of character development because it showed their characteristics in action instead of telling about them. The next scene deconstructs the adventurer lifestyle by showing how they go about making a living and continues the development by showing what they do in their downtime. They gained additional facets by being mild anti heroes. Regina, for instance, is the black sheep of Info Mages because she looks for artifacts in old ruins (i.e. 'tomb robbing') instead of teaching or preserving documents like the rest. I like the setting. I really do. On one hand it's a magical fantasy world with mages and gargoyles but on the other hand it operates like a mundane world: kings squabble, common people work for a living, and at the end of the day you go to a tavern to drink with your friends. I find the world building fascinating; there's a self-governing body of mages called the 'dieta of mages' that polices magic users and provides advisers to kings that are autonomous from that king. There's also fictional history which fills in details and reminds the reader that more is going on in this fictional world than what happens to the main characters. The only flaw I can see in this novel is the prose. It can be awkward at times and require rereading which breaks the reader's immersion in the world. I would say three or so patches are bad and the rest are isolated. They are the only thing holding this book back from a perfect score. Trickster Eric Novels gives "Adventure Hunters" an A